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Confessions of a buffet restaurant manager: Some people try to take home crabs

She never loses her smile even when faced with difficult diners

Buffets can bring out the worst in people, says Ms Amal Ashik, who helps run one of the biggest and most well-known buffet spreads here.

The 25-year-old, who has worked in restaurants since 2009, says she's seen all sorts of kiasu (Hokkien for afraid to lose out) behaviour, including stowing away of food and attempts to take it home.

But be warned. Restaurant staffers can and do spot such behaviour.

Ms Amal says: "Yes, there are those who try to walk out with pastries hidden between paper towels. We let it slide sometimes.

"But if they try to take away crabs, for example, then we have to step in."

This is because the food may not be safe for consumption after being handled in this manner and the restaurant could be liable.

The New Paper on Sunday approached the assistant manager at Carousel at Royal Plaza on Scotts for her stories after a video of tourists clamouring for prawns at a Thailand buffet went viral and drew the ire of netizens.

In the video, they could be seen shoving their way to the tray of prawns and shovelling up piles of the crustaceans with their plates instead of tongs.

Many slammed the tourists for being uncultured and wasteful - plates of prawns were left untouched at the end of their meal.

Ms Amal says it's an extreme scene. "My jaw dropped when I saw the video. I was shocked that this kind of thing could happen.

"Here, at most, you get a long queue of people."

Her role as manager means she makes sure that the food counters are topped up so diners do not need to rush, especially at the popular seafood segment.

But this does not stop diners from making a beeline for the food when they spot the refilling happening.

SCREENGRAB/STOMP

Besides kiasu customers, there are also the occasional difficult ones.

"Guests may sometimes get upset when they are allocated a table that they do not like, or when walk-in guests are told that the restaurant is fully booked."

"An overbooked restaurant, power failure and miscommunication on specific arrangements are examples of what could go wrong in a day of work," she says.

Ms Amal also keeps an eye out for unsupervised children who run around the restaurant, posing a hazard to themselves and other diners.

When problems occur, it is her job to make sure the restaurant operations still run smoothly, from making reservations to handling feedback.

But if diners abuse the employees, the hotel has an anti-harassment policy in place and a security team on standby.

"Sometimes, in order to maintain composure during a challenging situation, such as when I had a guest staring me down, we sing a song in our heads to keep ourselves smiling."

In most cases, diners leave happy, she says.

Last year, Ms Amal and her colleagues helped a male diner surprise his girlfriend with a marriage proposal at the restaurant, holding up large cards that spelled "Will you marry me?" while performing a choreographed dance.

"The whole restaurant applauded when she agreed," she says.

Another time, she caught a diner trying to take away food but soon realised that she was taking food back into the hotel room for her companion, who was ill.

So Ms Amal offered to take the food up to their room instead, to the gratitude of the customer.

These are experiences that make the stressful days worth it, she says.

"I have never considered a career change and even pursued further education in the food and beverage industry," adds Ms Amal.

"I love my job."

SECRETS OF THE TRADE

1 Smile so much that your face hurts. Having to always portray a pleasant, approachable demeanour is an integral part of customer service.

2 Keep a mirror in the office - service staffers have to look presentable and project a good image. Spend at least 10 minutes on personal grooming before hitting the restaurant floor.

3 For those high-octane moments, a shot of espresso helps to fuel your day, or learn to take a deep breath when the going gets tough.

Bloggers still uncertain over non-monetary benefits

Bloggers surprised by Iras reminder to declare non-monetary benefits have only two more weeks to work things out

Blogger Peggy Heng (above)

With little more than two weeks to the income tax filing deadline, social media marketing agency Nuffnang has met with the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (Iras) to clarify the need to declare the non-monetary benefits-in-kind received by its bloggers and influencers.

The other major player in Singapore, Gushcloud, says it is also asking for a meeting with Iras, but no date has been set yet.

It wants to make clearthe things to be declared and the industry's workings in terms of remuneration, be it in cash or in-kind, among other concerns, says its co-founder, Miss Althea Lim.

A letter from Iras to bloggers seems to have caught the blogging community by surprise.

Part of the letter, which surfaced on the Internet last month, said: "All non-monetary benefits such as sponsorships, products and services received are considered gains and profits from services provided as a social media influencer (including blogger, YouTuber).

"As such, the market value of such products/services will be subject to tax and must be reported."

MISTAKES

Despite the shock expressed by the blogging community, Iras has clarified that its stance is not new: It does remind self-employed individuals as they tend to make mistakes.

In other words, they may not be declaring their incomes correctly and therefore may not be paying the right amount of tax - and bloggers are among the group of people who are at "risk" of noncompliance.

Blogging as a hobby is not considered a business in general, says Iras.

But if it is done repeatedly for monetary and non-monetary rewards, it should be assessed as a self-employed person's income.

It does not matter if they have heard from Iras or not, or if they are doing it full time or part time.

Most bloggers expressed shock as they did not know that gifts-in-kind can be taxed.

When The New Paper on Sunday contacted full-time blogger Wendy Cheng, who goes by the moniker Xia­xue, she said she was surprised as this was the first time she received the letter from Iras.

The mother of one, who started full-time blogging in 2005, says: "The letter was very targeted - it was obviously for bloggers.

"It has never occurred to me that blogging has become a recognised profession over the years."

In response to the letter, she says she is "trying to collate things I've received in the past year and putting an estimated value to them".

For instance, she is going through her Instagram for advertorial posts in the past year.

STILL WAITING FOR CLARIFICATIONS

As for non-monetary benefits-in-kind prior to last year, Ms Cheng says she is still waiting for clarifications.

She says: "It's not fair for me to estimate (the value) now. The company may have given me a discount then, and it may not be applicable now."

She adds that in previous years, she declared her taxes based on her monetary income.

Iras says it is sending out letters, including to lawyers, doctors, accountants and tutors, as an educational approach.

Those who do not have all their income and deduction details by the tax filing deadline of April 18 have a grace period of one year to supplement the details by writing in, it says.

To help its bloggers, Nuffnang says: "We have a dashboard where our bloggers and influencers can log on to view their earnings, which helps them organise their income statements."

Miss Lim says Gushcloud has been actively reminding its contracted influencers of the tax filing deadline since 2013.

Besides answering their questions, it also conducts workshops and one-on-one chats with a tax expert, where questions about what is considered income and what should be declared are addressed.

The maximum penalty for omission or under-declaration of income without reasonable cause is 200 per cent of the tax undercharged.

For very serious tax fraud or evasion cases, the maximum penalty is 400 per cent of the tax undercharged.


PHOTOS: ARIFFIN JAMAR, COURTESY OF MS WENDY CHENG

''The letter was very targeted — it was obviously for bloggers. It has never occurred to me that blogging has become a recognised profession over the years.''

— Full-time blogger Wendy Cheng (above ), who goes by the moniker Xiaxue


''(Some bloggers) have been quite loud about how much they earn. People will be wondering how much they pay in
terms of taxes.''

— Blogger Peggy Heng (above), also known as ThyDowager, registered a sole proprietorship for her advertising and marketing business about two years ago

 

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